On a windy Saturday afternoon at Sprague Field, New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) division rivals Montclair State University and Rowan University locked horns for the 58th time in their historic college football rivalry.
The Red Hawks entered the game with a 5-2 record in the NJAC and a 6-2 overall record, while the Profs came in with a 4-3 in the NJAC and a 5-3 overall record. With pride and position in the NJAC, both teams were on the line for Saturday’s NJAC divisional match-up.
The Red Hawks’ 2018 senior class has helped this year’s team achieve its best conference and overall record since the 2014 season when they finished 8-2 under head coach Rick Giancola. For 11 Red Hawk seniors, it was the last time they would play a home game.
The 11 seniors are captains Mauro Altamura and Jake Weber, quarterback John Apicella, offensive lineman John Koonce, tight end Curtis Pendleton, running back Willie Barr, defensive lineman Rodney DiPrenda Jr., linebackers Liam Nelson and Giuseppe Gugliuzza, safety Dylan Elliott, and kicker Hunter Daly.
Senior running back Barr started off the Red Hawks opening drive with a 10-yard run. The Red Hawks junior quarterback Ja’Quill Burch would know just what to do with his field position. Burch connected with sophomore wide receiver Carsen Johnson on a 36-yard pass. The Red Hawks were on the goal line soon after, where Burch threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to sophomore running back Kyle Phipps, that helped the Red Hawks take a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter.
Rowan’s opening drive did not start off as well as the Red Hawks’ did. Around the 10-minute mark, Red Hawks linebacker Gugliuzza intercepted Rowan quarterback Riley Giles’ pass, which he ran with to the Rowan 26-yard-line.
Burch commanded the Red Hawks offense in this game with a decisive arm that threw four touchdowns and two passes for 30 yards and 36 yards. With 4:59 left in the first quarter, Burch found junior wide receiver Kason Campbell on a 30-yard touchdown pass, and the Red Hawks had jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
On the following Rowan drive, freshman safety Brennan Ray forced a fumble that was recovered by other freshman safety Jalen Harris. Harris was tackled at the Rowan 29-yard line, giving the Red Hawks offense good field position.
The Red Hawks made quick work of their next drive. Burch threw a touchdown pass to junior Mike Manzo-Lewis that improved the Red Hawks lead to 21-0.
In the third quarter, the Red Hawks offense produced an eight-play, 80-yard drive that took time off the game clock. Junior running back Ralph McLean rushed three times for 45 yards, including a 28-yard run to the Profs’ 3-yard line on the Red Hawks last drive before halftime.
Burch found Johnson with his third touchdown pass of the day to give the Red Hawks a 28-0 lead.
Rowan University made a game of it in the second half. Giles got Rowan on the board when he launched a 73-yard touchdown pass that was caught by junior wide receiver Elijah Reim with 7:23 left on the game clock.
Burch would throw an interception to Rowan’s junior defensive-back Nate Lanier who ran 42 yards back for a touchdown, cutting the Red Hawks lead to 28-14.
Profs’ head coach Jay Accorsi discussed what his team needs to do to improve on from here on out.
“We came out flat because we have young quarterbacks, and I think that affects other parts of our game,” Accorsi said. “But we played much better in the second half, I wish we played the whole game like that.”
Coach Accorsi shared what he knew about Red Hawks’ head coach Rick Giancola and what he thought of his opponent.
“Not many people know coach Giancola is in the Glassboro State College Hall of Fame,” Accorsi said. “I know he learned a lot playing for coach Wacker back in the day and Montclair [State]’s always a tough team. Great defense and an opportunistic, young offense.”
Sophomore running back Messiah Divine discussed his team, Rowan’s second half that day.
“How we came out in the second half today, we need to push everybody to play like that the whole game,” Divine said. “We have experience on the offensive line and in the secondary, and we’re going to come back strong next year.”
For junior Ralph McLean, he explained how team identity and culture of this year’s team affected him.
“We’ve had a chip on our shoulders from the start, and even when we went on a five-game winning streak, we still had a chip on our shoulders and that’s what I think kept us going,” McLean said.
Senior captain Weber discussed the team’s commitment to the process of preparation.
“Our young players came in and bought in [to team goals] on day one, and even the kids who aren’t playing are scout guys do a great job at preparing us for each game,” Weber said. “We say it every day, you win the game on Tuesday, you win the game in practice, because preparation before a game is key.”
Junior wide receiver Stepp Oziegbe discussed how the Red Hawks’ team chemistry developed over the course of this season.
“When we came in this year, the goal was to change the culture of the program and get back on a winning track,” Oziegbe said. “In the past few years we weren’t a team, so this year was all about coming together as a team and becoming like a family.”
Junior tight end Brian Kowalczyk echoed his teammate’s sentiments.
“The seniors — they really set the standard for the next year for Montclair [State]. They tell us all the time that you have to give your all every day, because you do not know how long you have until it’s gone,” Kowalczyk said. “Montclair [State] was always known [for being] in the winning column, so we want everyone to know that we’re back and looking to be in the playoffs every year.”